Arthur Robison

T. alt.: Schatten. Eine nächtliche Halluzination. Sog.: Albin Grau. Scen.: Rudolf Schneider, Arthur Robison. F.: Fritz Arno Wagner. Scgf.: Albin Grau. Int.: Fritz Kortner (l’uomo), Ruth Weyher (la donna), Gustav von Wangenheim (il giovane), Eugen Rex (gentiluomo), Max Gülstorff (secondo gentiluomo), Ferdinand von Alten (terzo gentiluomo), Fritz Rasp (servitore), Carl Platen (secondo servitore), Lilli Herder (cameriera), Alexander Granach (intrattenitore). Prod.: Pan-Film. 35mm. L.: 1942 m. D.: 85’ a 20 f/s. Col. (Desmet)

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The interplay of light and shadow is a defining characteristic of those German films made in the late 1910s and early 1920s that have been collectively (and rather simplistically) labelled “Expressionist”. The supernatural Kammerspiel film Schatten arguably represents the apotheosis of the shadow motif in German silent cinema; shadows serving here not only as a key stylistic device but as an intrinsic element of the narrative.
While Arthur Robison is credited as director, it would be wrong to label Schatten “a film by Arthur Robison”. On the contrary, the film is a prime example of film-making as a collaborative art form, and just as much “a film by Albin Grau” or “a film by Fritz Arno Wagner”, whose set design and camera-work respectively are integral to the look and atmosphere of the film, even more so than they were to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, released the previous year.
Like the “screen poems” (Siegfried Kracauer) made around the same time by screenwriter Carl Mayer in collaboration with Lupu Pick and Murnau – Scherben (1921), Sylvester (1923-24) and Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924) – Schatten was, upon its initial German release in October 1923, completely devoid of intertitles. Thus, the contribution of the cast in conveying the inner emotional and psychological workings of the anonymous protagonists is every bit as important as the lighting, design and mise-en-scène.
While it has long been considered part of the German silent cinema canon, Schatten is still somewhat overshadowed (no pun intended) by the work of Murnau, Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst, indeed perhaps due to its lack of a clearly distinguishable auteur. Nonetheless, Paul Rotha, in his influential study The Film ‘Till Now (first published in 1930), praised Schatten as “a rare example of complete filmic unity,” in which “[t]he continuity of theme, the smooth development from one sequence into another, the gradual realisation of the thoughts of the characters, were flawlessly presented” and “[e]very filmic property for the expression of mood, for the creation of atmosphere, that was known at the time was used with imagination and intelligence”. Watching the film today, it is hard to disagree.

Oliver Hanley

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courtesy of Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung